Black Hammer Volume 1: Secret Origins

Jeff Lemire: script; Dean Ormston: art; Dave Stewart: colors

Dark Horse Books, 2017

Canadian cartoonist/writer Jeff Lemire first made his name as an indie creator, notably with the Essex County trilogy for Top Shelf. He followed that up with a number of creator owned projects featuring him as both writer and artist, including the long running Vertigo series Sweet Tooth. He then surprised many fans by turning to superhero work--first exclusively for DC, then for Marvel. So it is even more surprising to find that his followup to Essex County was originally intended to be Black Hammer.

This is a superhero story with a definite indie sensibility. It's like a rural version of Astro City...or a superhero version of Essex County. The story opens with the current status quo: a group of superheroes from Spiral City who are living as a dysfunctional family on a farm near a mysterious small town from which they have no escape. The "Secret Origins" part comes in each of the following issues, which focus on the history of the individual heroes in the group, while also advancing the story in the present.

They are a motley crew. There's a Captain Marvel analogue named Golden Gail, currently stuck in a nine-year old body; a Martian Manhunter type; a Batman-style fighter with no super powers (which would also describe the absent Black Hammer); a magical character called Madame Dragonfly; a robot named Talky-Walky; and a science-based hero named Col. Weird (who has a weird backstory, indeed)--along with the Black Hammer himself, who was lost in the battle. Bit by bit the story of how they arrived in their current situation is revealed. They were fighting a Galactus-style villain called the Anti-god, there was a flash of light, and they found themselves somewhere else. There are clues that indicate they are not on the Earth, and there may be a dimensional portal involved.

In the meantime they try to make a life for themselves, including romantic involvements with residents of the town. Much of the drama actually comes from their attempts to "act normal." And the superheroics are largely relegated to flashbacks. The final issue devoted to Madame Dragonfly is an EC comics homage. But it also brings Lucy Weber, the Black Hammer's daughter, into their world. So perhaps they are about to learn some useful things about where they are and how to escape.

One major change from Lemire's original concept is the addition of artist Dean Ormston to the creative team, due to Lemire's cartoonist workload. Ormston is a great choice, giving the series a Vertigo-like look (the American comics with which he is most closely associated).

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